The Historical Guide to North American Railroads (3rd Edition) book

An updated resource book from Kalmbach Publishing Co.
The Historical Guide to North American Railroads (3rd Edition)
Kalmbach Books
21027 Crossroads Circle
Waukesha WI 53186
Editors: Jeff Wilson, Randy Rehberg
81/4" x 101/4", 320 pages,
softbound, color
Price: $24.95
We often see Santa Fe, Pennsylvania, Baltimore & Ohio, and “fallen flags,” whose legacies live on only printed on the sides of the models that grace our rails. With the exception of small, regional railroads, most of today’s freight in North America is handled by a half-dozen or so large railroad corporations: railroads whose names sometimes do, and sometimes do not, offer insight into the heritage of the railroads that became part of their systems. The Historical Guide to North American Railroads (third edition) gives faces to the names we see on models but no longer on the full-sized rails.

The book opens with a brief history of railroading in North America, including the industrial and political forces that shaped railroad history from the beginning to today’s mix of mega-railroads and small regional feeders. Each railroad is then covered in one to three pages. Each entry includes a brief history of the railroad, along with maps and some statistics about the line, and snapshots of the railroad through the years.

A nice touch is that each entry includes the web address for the railroad’s historical society. Over 170 railroads are covered in this book. Most of the railroads mentioned are “fallen flag” name­­—railroads that have been swallowed up through mergers and acquisitions­­—while a few others are lines that have ceased operations. Most railroads are standard gauge but a few narrow-gauge lines are included as well. You won’t find much on today’s shortline railroads, since they don’t really fit the historical scope of the book.

Each of the histories is well written, offering a basic understanding of the hows and whys of that particular railroad. Comparing what is written in the book to the histories of railroads with which I am personally familiar, the synopses are accurate. They’re also updated with the latest information available for the railroad. For instance, the page on the East Broad Top includes information concerning the new owners.

The photos—and there are plenty—are sharp and colorful. They do a great job of showing the railroads’ paint schemes. Maps are easy to understand and show where these railroads ran (and, in some cases, still do).

This isn’t a book that you have to read cover to cover. It’s a reference book that you can turn to when you see a railroad name that piques your interest. I think it is a great book for the average model railroader with a general interest in a number of railroads. Few of us have time (or shelf space) to buy a book on each railroad we see.

This book gives us most of the info we really care about—the basic nuts and bolts of each operation—without the need to buy book after book filled with a lot of historical data that we’ll likely forget anyway. Save those for the railroads in which you have a specific interest. This book is great for all the rest.


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